poetry

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In a week like this–in this week–it’s hard to think about writing, and then the news of Leonard Cohen’s passing.

This morning, Advice to Writers sent out this quote:

“I can’t discard anything unless I finish it. So I have to finish the verses that I discard. So it takes a long time. I have to finish it to know whether it deserves to survive in the song. So in that sense, all the songs take a long time. And although the good lines come unbidden, they’re anticipated. And the anticipation involves a patient application to the enterprise.”

LEONARD COHEN

One of the most formative songs of my youth was Suzanne.

Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for your music and for the reminder–in writing and in so much more.

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Let’s start with what’s next: The election. High anxiety for everyone, or almost everyone, on all sides. How do we get through Tuesday? The days after Tuesday? How do we heal?

This morning, my husband turned on the TV news, which ran a story about a woman who is making yard signs and tote bags that say, “Make America Kind Again.”

Yes.

And in between election anxiety, I’ve also been doing the Whole 30. Yeah, you could call it a fad diet, but it’s supposed to be a physical and mental reset. Some things are resetting, and others not so much. And I’ve been cheating in that about two weeks in, I did get on the scale, and have done since then, and do not feel bad about it. In many ways, it isn’t that much different from the way I’d been trying to eat–except for no dairy and no alcohol (no wine, no gin martini). I’m on day 25, having made it through several parties and events and two election debates. In other ways, it’s helpful to check in when I feel like I want a treat and ask whether I really want that or want something else. Usually, the answer is both. On the other hand, I don’t think the authors of the program are my people. For example, they say that at one point I might start dreaming of junk food. Did not happen. They say that on day 21 I will be probably be sick of my food choices. No, I’m not sick of my food choices. I’m sick of cooking and shopping and cooking and shopping. I want the pizza not because I crave junk food, but because they will deliver it to my door. So much for my pioneer fantasies. My husband has been really helpful about making things that don’t include the vast number of forbidden things (obvious things, like sugar, and not so obvious, like soy, which means any commercial mayonnaise). Five more days. We’ll see.

I’ve also been writing (really excited about a poem that includes both Star Trek and the Wizard of Oz, and another poem about topological phase change) and writing and reading as part of the Ekphrastic Assimilations project. US poets wrote after Chinese artists’ works, and the Chinese artist–who are also poets–wrote after the works by US artists. The  Ekphrastic Assimilations website is still up, and you can view the art and post your own ekphrastic poem there. I’ve been working on a second one.

Finally, what’s next: I’ll be reading this Friday, November 11, at the Good Shepherd Center. I’m excited to hear poems by Amy Schrader, Douglas Schuder, Griffeth Williams, Raul Sanchez, and Victoria Ford. I’m also excited to return to room 202, where I took a fantastic Hugo House class with John Marshall, and where, walking to the car after a reading, an owl flew over my head. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by at 7:00. If you aren’t in the neighborhood, they have parking!

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I still think about Benjamin Grossberg’s comment that, as I heard it, paraphrased, the writing reveals the subject (I’m always struggling with what to write about). This afternoon, an epiphany. It’s not that the writing, in one session (I’m so naïve) brings up the subject, but that the writing brings up more writing. Whatever is revealed comes to the surface over time.

So long, instant gratification.

After getting off work, I slipped out to the front porch and tried to write. It was mostly “meh” (if that’s dated already, you probably know what I mean anyway). But when I came back inside, I got two more ideas and something to research.

The act of writing—wait, I also read from the newest issue of POETRY before I even started, and I will say any day of the week that reading inspires writing—the act of writing might just be a warm-up, but it can get me to the real writing. It’s writing as throat-clearing. And when it doesn’t feel good, when it doesn’t jumpstart something wonderful, or something that can become wonderful, it might contain an image, a line, that will shine elsewhere, later.

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WP_20160817_001 (169x300)There used to be a fence attached to this gate.

One day, I noticed that the fence had disappeared, but the gate stood alone.

This morning, while my husband was working on home maintenance, he asked whether I was attached to the gate, or whether he could take it down.

“It’s a metaphor,” I said. “I’m not sure yet to what, but it’s a metaphor.”

He said, “Okay, you can keep the metaphor.” He is understanding, and he understands that he is married to a poet.

I need to understand that if I use a gate in a poem as a metaphor, you’re going to see the gate first.

I recently brought to a workshop a poem called “Self-Storage.” First, I had other titles involving cows or the absence of cows and an abundance of buttercups. I was thinking about storage and hit upon the idea of self-storage, then quickly looked up Rebecca Hoogs’s marvelous poem (in her book by the same name), to make sure that it was different enough to avoid any idea that I could possibly, ever, copy (I couldn’t and wouldn’t, and if you haven’t read her book yet, there’s no time like now).

Okay, that might have been a digression.

Back to it: I meant the idea of storage in a metaphorical way (I talk about a cardboard box in the closet), but people immediately—and understandably—pictured the actual rows of units with the steel doors that roll up. Of course they did. We haven’t even gotten into the poem, and that’s what I’ve given them.

What I learned: The metaphor jumps off from the physical (just as a simile does), so I need to be sure that I’m putting people where I want them to jump.

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This question comes up sometimes at readings: How do you start a poem—with a line or a thought or an image? They’re so closely linked that trying to figure out which comes first can get tricky. But, having read Bethany Reid’s blog posts, I’m going to set all three aside and say that my best poems come from a feeling—the feeling behind or under the thought, something as compelling as a two-year-old tugging at my jacket, something that doesn’t want to let go.

I fail when I ignore that tug or say, “Later.” I’m really not good at stopping whatever I’m doing and writing that poem that’s asking to be written. I have pulled over to the side of the road, but rarely. I have stopped on my way out the door to work, but not often and not this morning.

And this morning, I realized: No matter how well I can remember the words I was thinking, and even if I find time to write them down later, to try to kick-start that poem, I probably won’t have the same feeling. It’s possible I’ll be able to get some echo of it back, but after a commute and traffic, it isn’t likely. By then, I’m at a distance from that initial impetus—a remove that’s great for revising but not for generating.

If what start’s a poem is that feeling, I resolve try harder and be better at stopping EVERYTHING and listening to that poem pulling at my sleeve, to write it down. I’ll need to, because what’s next (what’s now) is graduate school, and I’ll need all the poems I can get.

Recently, at the end of a Costco shopping trip, I did listen, and in my blazing hot car I wrote as long as I could stand it. Because I had to return to Costco today—and just for fun—here is the poem:

This Is My Costco Poem

For the couple ahead ambled, pausing
to peruse each label
as another woman pondered
six or more possible sausage choices.
For I nearly left the new pens
in the basket, having never
purchased pens here until now.
For the mother ahead of me bought
a bazillion wondrous things,
but not the big box of Snapware
on the lower rack of her cart.
For such was then added to my order.
For the cart steered heavy, too heavy
halfway through the parking lot.
For I had no room in my cupboards
to keep that much plastic,
although I coveted the clicks of the lids.
For I found some confusion
at the customer service counter
before it was my turn to return.
For I have red peppers and tomatoes,
I have four kinds of meat
and a station wagon resplendent
under the sun, miles of stop-and-go
traffic with one more store for peanuts.
For I have promised myself
after shopping I will not drink gin
shaken or stirred. For I have sweat
and sweat and sweat and sweat
and this poem that perseveres.

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